I stumbled upon this article by Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food and Omnivores Dilemma) while browsing the New York Times website. It's long, but offers an interesting insight to the evolution American food culture. With the movie Julie and Julia in theaters, the life and accomplishments of Julia Child has been cast into the public eye and the disparities between the message she offered and that of today's "Food Network Stars."
Since I began cooking and sharing my food with others, I've always believed that the reason that the food I make tastes good is not because of talent or skill but because I'm willing to devote so much more time to cooking than the average person. A truly talented chef can develop his of her own recipes at the drop of a hat with just a handful of fresh ingredients. To be gifted with food means to possess carnal knowledge about flavors, textures, and techniques. While I have certainly acquired new skills and have learned a few tricks since I began cooking, my ability to prepare a dish depends on following a well tested recipe. I feel comfortable veering from the preconceived directions only marginally, and not enough to alter the integrity of the dish. What I'm really good at is following directions. Although some have scoffed at this assertion, it's true. Anyone can do it, so long as they care enough, are willing to dedicate time and effort, and militantly follow instructions.
The problem is that most people aren't wiling to do these things. As is discussed in the article, Americans (including myself) spend hours watching cooking shows, but very little hands on time in the kitchen. Food in our culture is considered "good" if it is fast, effortless, and mostly (if not completely) prepared by someone else. Commercials glorify food that simply requires the touch of a microwave button to be ready to eat and fast food chains literally time their employees to ensure that they pass off a messily assembled burger to a customer within a promised number of seconds.
We have all but severed the inherent human connection to the food we eat and the earth that grows it. That's one of the reasons I love to cook. I can prepare a meal with pure ingredients, that are actually found in nature as opposed to engineered in some processing plant, that will nourish my body and those of the people I care about. Knowing where food comes from, how it's produced, and what it has been through to arrive on your cutting board is increasingly significant, as the processes by which most Americans get their next bites is devastating to our bodies, our society, and our environment.
Furthermore, food has an innate power of bringing people together. Families and friends all but instinctively gather for a well made, hard earned meal. It's a beautiful and integral part of the American dream that we have cast aside. I cook because those values are worth it to me. Sharing my food with others and knowing that the choices I've made in preparing it truly can make a difference is one of the most rewarding experiences.
Anyways, do read the article. Pollan explains it all much more elegantly and thoroughly than I have. It is remarkable how much our food culture has changed in the past 50 years and pretty alarming to think about where it's headed.